U.S. releases funds to Iran as IAEA verifies compliance with nuclear deal

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The United States said Thursday that it has released the latest tranche of $450 million to Iran based on verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency this week that Iran is complying with the terms of a six month interim nuclear deal.

The announcement came as US officials said that the US has taken steps to resolve problems Iran was alleged to have had accessing some funds.

“We can confirm that we have taken the necessary steps in all good faith pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action to facilitate the release of certain Iranian funds in the installments agreed,” a Treasury Department spokesperson, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported to its Board of Governors this week that Iran has diluted 75% of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium since the six month Joint Plan of Action went into effect on January 20th, Reuters reported Thursday.

“Based on this confirmation and consistent with commitments that the United States made under the Joint Plan of Action, the Department of Treasury took the necessary steps… to facilitate the release of a $450 million installment of Iran’s frozen funds,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told journalists at the State Department press briefing Thursday.

“As Iran remains in line with its commitments under the JPOA, the the US … will continue to uphold our commitments as well,” Harf said.

Iranian officials, under fire from hardliners suspicious of the nuclear negotiations, echoed the assessment that the six world powers were delivering the sanctions relief promised in the deal.

Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and nuclear negotiator, told Iran’s IRNA news agency Tuesday that to date, four installments of Iran’s frozen oil sale proceeds have been released to Iran per the deal’s terms, and that the “Central Bank of Iran has no problem in having access” to the funds, IRNA reported  Wednesday.

A fifth installment was expected to be released on Wednesday, IRNA cited Ravanchi.

Under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, Iran is to receive a total of $4.2 billion in its oil sale proceeds held in foreign bank accounts, delivered in eight installments over six months, based on IAEA verification of its compliance.

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likewise defended the nuclear negotiations this week and said he believed both sides wanted to get a final deal and were negotiating in good faith.

“There is the political will to get an answer,” Zarif told Reuters in Abu Dhabi April 15th.  “The domestic audience will be satisfied if we have a good deal. Of course some people will never be satisfied but that is fine because we have a pluralistic society.”

Negotiators from Iran and six world powers have held three rounds of talks in Vienna this year and are set to begin drafting the text of a final nuclear accord at their next meeting in May, with the aim of trying to conclude an agreement by the July 20th expiration of the interim deal.

Ahead of the fourth round of talks, to be held in Vienna starting on May 13th, experts from Iran and the P5+1 will hold expert-level talks on the sidelines of a NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in New York the first week of May, Zarif said this week.

Text: ‘Joint Plan of Action’ signed by Iran, P5+1 in Geneva

The US National Security Council released this text of the Joint Plan of Action on the nuclear agreement signed by six world powers and Iran in Geneva, November 24, 2013.

Full text below, as sent by the NSC below:

Joint Plan of Action

Preamble

The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons. This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures and result in a final step for a period to be agreed upon and the resolution of concerns. This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme. This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-bystep process, and would produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme.

There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step, including, among other things, addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council’s consideration of this matter. The E3+3 and Iran will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures and the comprehensive solution in good faith. A Joint Commission of E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of the near-term measures and address issues that may arise, with the IAEA responsible for verification of nuclear-related measures. The Joint Commission will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern. Continue reading

Netanyahu to UN: Keep pressure on Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the United Nations Tuesday to keep up the sanctions pressure on Iran until there would be a verifiable and meaningful agreement that would inhibit Iran from having a rapid nuclear breakout capability.

“Keep up the sanctions,” Netanyahu urged the UN General Assembly as its final speaker on Tuesday. “Lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program.”

“The international community has Iran on the ropes,” Netanyahu said. “If you want to knock out Iran's nuclear weapons program peacefully, don't let up the pressure. Keep it up.”

An Iranian diplomat rebutted Netanyahu's allegations that Iran seeks nuclear weapons, and urged that Israel join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and put its alleged nuclear weapons program under inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We just heard an extremely inflammatory statement by the last speaker in which he made made allegations against the peaceful nuclear activities of my country,” the Iranian diplomat, counsellor Khodadad Seifi, said in a formal response to Netanyahu's speech to the UNGA. “I do not want to dignity such unfounded allegations with an answer other than to categorically reject them all. He tries to mislead this august body about Iran's nuclear program.”

“The most ironic part of his comments was when he tried to be more royal than the king and set standards for Iran's nuclear activities and levels of enrichment,” Seifi continued. “He must know that no one can dictate to Iran what to do or not to do. As a party to the NPT, Iran is fully aware of its rights and it's fully committed to its obligations. .. Israel is the only non NPT Party in the Middle East.”

Full transcript of Netanyahu's remarks to the 68th United Nations General Assembly Tuesday below the jump: Continue reading

Rouhani Says Nuclear Issue Can Be Resolved

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In a mostly off the record discussion with about two dozen editors and political analysts, including Al-Monitor’s Andrew Parasiliti, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that “the nuclear issue can be resolved,” and condemned the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people, hoping to close the chapter on the legacy of Holocaust denial by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On the nuclear front, Rouhani said Iran is ready to “provide assurances, talk, and negotiate an agreement.” Speaking through an interpreter, he stressed that Iran has nothing to hide, that all of Iran’s sites are under IAEA supervision and will remain so, and that Iran expects its legal and full rights as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). On the levels of uranium enrichment which Iran would be allowed for its nuclear program, Rouhani said that Iran seeks the same privileges as the other 40 or so countries which have signed the NPT and have the capacity for enrichment. “Nothing less, nothing more,” he said.

A source close to the delegation told Al-Monitor that the use of the language of the NPT in the speech by US President Barack Obama on Tuesday was well received in Iran, as was Obama’s reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa prohibiting nuclear weapons.

In response to a question about his position on the Holocaust, Rouhani made plain his difference with former Iranian president Ahmadinejad by condemning the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews and others during World War II, much as he did in an interview Tuesday with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

President Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have tried to reach out to the Jewish community, using Twitter to issue Rosh Hashana greetings earlier this month. Rouhani was also accompanied to the discussion Wednesday by Moreh Sedgh, Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament, Rouhani’s Twitter account said. Israel, however, has rejected the overtures, charging the Rouhani ‘charm offensive’ is a cynical ploy meant to deceive gullible audiences in the West.

The White House said Tuesday that it had expressed interest in an Obama Rouhani encounter in New York, but the Iranians ultimately declined, indicating domestic complications.

“It was clear that it was too complicated for them,” a senior US official said.

Before boxers get in the ring to fight, they shake hands, an Iranian diplomat told Al-Monitor Tuesday, to explain the Iranian decision not to meet with Obama at this time.

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday as part of a P5+1 foreign ministers meeting.

Andrew Parasiliti contributed the report.

(Photo: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during session with reporters in New York, September 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of Gideon Rose.)

Rouhani proposes nuclear transparency, easing US-Iran tensions

Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rouhani ushered in the post-Ahmadinejad era Monday with a sometimes extraordinary 90-minute press conference in which he stressed he would take a pragmatic and moderate approach to improve Iranian relations with the world and reduce tensions with the United States over Iran's nuclear program.

“The Iranian people…will be happy to build trust and repair relations with the United States,” if the US pledges to never interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs and to respect Iran’s rights, including for domestic enrichment, Rouhani told the packed press conference in Tehran.

“We don't want further tension” with the United States, Rouhani, 64, said. “Both nations need to think more about the future and try to sit down and find solutions to past issues and rectify things.”

“My government will defend the rights of the Iranian nation,” the multilingual cleric, who earned his PhD in Glasgow, said. “We want to see less tension, and if we see goodwill” from the United States, then “confidence -building measures can be made.”

Asked how Iran could get out from crippling economic sanctions, Rouhani said his government would offer greater transparency of Iran’s nuclear program and take steps to restore international trust to get sanctions rolled back. “Our nuclear program is transparent but we’re ready to take steps to make it more transparent,” he said.

Rouhani said, however, that the time has passed for Iran to agree to suspend lower level enrichment, which it did in 2004-2005 when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. “That era is behind us,” Rouhani said of the deal he negotiated a decade ago with three European powers to suspend Iran's 3.5% enrichment. “There are so many other ways to build international trust.”

Rouhani proposed that a deal he discussed in 2005 with then French President Jacques Chirac, which he said was rejected by the UK and the US, could be the model going forward.

Hossein Mousavian, who served as a member of the Rouhani negotiating team, said the Chirac idea that Rouhani referenced involved the highest level of transparency of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Iran having its rights under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognized.

“We agreed with Chirac that: first, the EU-3 would respect the legitimate rights of Iran for peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT, including enrichment,” Mousavian told Al-Monitor Monday. “Second, Iran would accept the [International Atomic Energy Agency] IAEA's definition for objective guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program would remain peaceful and would not divert toward weaponization in the future.”

“It means that Iran would respect the maximum level of transparency that internationally exists,” Mousavian, a contributing writer to Al-Monitor, further explained. “In return, the P5+1 would not discriminate against Iran as a member of the NPT. It would respect Iran's rights under the NPT like other members.”

Mousavian, asked how Washington should try to realize the potential to advance a nuclear deal under the more moderate Rouhani presidency, recommended that US President Barack Obama write Rouhani, offer him congratulations, and reiterate US interest in direct talks.

“Confirm the willingness and intentions of the US for relations based on mutual respect and mutual interest, to depart from 30 years of hostility and tension,” Mousavian suggested. Reiterate Washington's “readiness for direct talks with no preconditions.”

“I think now is the time,” Mousavian said, adding that he too had been taken by surprise by Rouhani's victory.

A top advisor to President Obama said Sunday the White House sees Rouhani's election as a “potentially hopeful sign.”

Continue reading

Ashton to meet Iran’s Jalili in follow up nuclear talks


Chief international negotiator Catherine Ashton will meet Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul on May 15th, the office of the European Union foreign policy chief said Thursday.

The meeting is the “follow up to the last round of negotiations” between six world powers and Iran held in Almaty, Kazakhstan April 5-6, Ashton’s spokesperson Michael Mann said in a two-line statement Thursday.

Ashton is expected to be “in listening mode” in the follow-up consultation, a western diplomatic source told Al-Monitor Thursday is his understanding.

“The P5+1 are expecting some sort of an indication that Iran wants to engage seriously,” the diplomat, speaking not for attribution, said, adding that “the bar seems to be rather low.”

Last week, Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri repeatedly announced that Iran was ready to return to negotiations and was waiting for Ashton’s call.

“We are waiting to see whether Lady Ashton’s response is going to cover the time and venue of another round of negotiations, or will she limit her response to just discussing the substantive side of things,” Bagheri told Reuters  in an interview in Geneva April 25th.

Bagheri, in the Reuters interview, also said that Iran is willing to discuss requests from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “which go beyond our obligations” under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Reuters report said.

Iran is also due to have a meeting with the IAEA on May 15th.

“Once we reach an agreement with the agency, we also expect the (six powers), because of such cooperation with the agency which goes well beyond our obligations, to lift a number of sanctions. Unilateral sanctions which are illegal,” Bagheri told Reuters. Continue reading

US diplomat: Six powers to outline ‘clear path’ for Iran sanctions relief, nuclear power


Almaty, Kazakhstan — Western diplomats said Monday they will put an updated proposal with some sanctions relief on the table when they meet with Iranian negotiators in Kazakhstan Tuesday for the first time in almost eight months.

They also stressed that they are hoping to get some momentum for a higher tempo of meetings with the Iranians in the coming months, possibly to be held at the technical experts level, in order to try to advance prospects for a deal (or assess Iran’s willingness to make a deal). Notably, diplomats signaled they would offer the Iranians a “clear pathway” to further sanctions relief and a civilian nuclear program, hinting at possible recognition of what Iran considers its right to enrich at the end of a step by step process.

“The real message is for Iran to appreciate there is a path forward for them to get the relief they are seeking and have a peaceful nuclear [energy] program,” a senior US official told journalists in Almaty Monday.

“What we will try to do here is put a modified proposal on the table, that both takes into account changes in Iran’s [nuclear] program, and is responsive to Iran’s desire for the P5+1 to recognize Iran’s needs,” the US diplomat said.

The modified international proposal is a “real, serious, and substantive” offer, the American official said. “We are trying to outline a pathway for sanctions relief. The President has been clear if Iran keeps all its obligations… under the NPT and IAEA….there is absolutely a pathway for it to have peaceful nuclear power.”

While western diplomats said they did not expect a breakthrough at the talks in Almaty this week, they did express the clear hope that Iran would be willing to continue talks soon at the technical level–if possible, before the Iranian New Year’s holiday of Nowruz in March.

“What I’d like is for the Iranians to see that the proposal put on the table is a serious one, a confidence building measure, not the final act in the play,” another nation’s diplomat at the talks told a few journalists in Almaty earlier Monday. “To go and consider it and possibly follow up at the experts level, to see if there’s some common ground.”

“Having been through the process before, I would not predict a decisive breakthrough tomorrow, although I’d be delighted if it happened,” he said. “I know usually both sides need time to consider what is put on the table.”

The revised international offer, proposed higher tempo of experts level meetings–which diplomats described as more productive and involving more direct US-Iran interchanges–and outlining path to further sanctions relief could have another purpose: to test out over time if Iran can say yes, or is assessed to be either unwilling or incapable of agreeing to a deal.

The second diplomat somewhat downplayed what has recently been heard as a growing concern in Washington, that the Iranian leadership may be almost incapable of making a deal even if it wanted one, including because of political infighting and unrealistic expectations exacerbated by Iran’s diplomatic isolation.

The Iranians are “sophisticated operators,” the diplomat close to the talks countered.

“There are real challenges for them in reaching a deal,” he acknowledged. “Not least, how to present it in a way that is a win-win solution. We all really want this to be a win-win end state.”

However, sanctions imposed last year on Iran’s energy and banking sectors “can only get lighter in response to steps taken by the Iran side,” he added.

US officials said the modified proposal had not been shared with the Iranians in advance of the Almaty meeting, so that the six powers could present it fully and explain what each element is meant to address. They declined to confirm details of the modified proposal, except to say it offered “some changes and steps in the arena of sanctions relief,” as the US official put it.

An official close to the Iranian delegation told Al-Monitor Monday that the Iranians were coming to Almaty “to listen,” to see if there are “any new ideas.” Continue reading

Iran nuclear negotiator, in India, blasts US double standards

Amid preparations for a new round of nuclear talks, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator used a speech at an Indian think tank Wednesday to rail against US-led negotiations with the Taliban and what he decried as American double standards on terrorism and a “selective approach to the nuclear rights” of nations.

Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s national security council, spoke to an invitation-only crowd at a New Delhi think tank Wednesday while on a three day official visit to India before traveling to Afghanistan. But the immediate focus of Jalili's India visit, at the invitation of his counterpart Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, seemed to have more to do with shared Indian and Iranian concerns about prospective US-led negotiations with the Taliban that could give Pakistan greater sway in Afghanistan, rather than the nuclear file, Indian analysts said.

“The good news is that Iran is as uncomfortable as India on the back-room developments with regard to Afghanistan as the United States-led international community seems hell bent on 'good' Taliban taking over the land-locked country in the post-2014 scenario of withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan,” Indian analyst Rajeev Sharma wrote.

Jalili, in his speech to the Observer Research  Foundation, “completely avoided specifics and focused on themes – despite very specific questions being asked, he focused on American double standards and US exceptionalism,” an Indian foreign policy analyst who attended the talk told the Back Channel by email Thursday. Continue reading

Iran FM Salehi: Iran nuclear bomb would decrease Iran’s security

New York_ Iran’s foreign minister said Monday that Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon would threaten Iran’s security and be destabilizing for the region.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the MIT-educated PhD engineer who previously served as Iran’s longtime envoy to the UN atomic watchdog agency, said that Iran acquiring one or two nuclear bombs would dramatically increase the threats Iran faces, and not be a deterrent to nuclear powers with far larger nuclear stockpiles.

“Had Iran chosen to [go] nuclear in the sense of weaponization, it would not be a deterrent for Iran,” Salehi, speaking in English, told foreign policy experts at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Monday. “It would attract more threats from the other side.”

“Because suppose we wanted to go nuclear and manufacture one or two bombs,” Salehi continued. “Who on the other side of Iran …can we ever be in equal footing with in this regard? Any country that challenges us with nuclear weapons …who would we use against?”

(In an interview with Al-Monitor in August, Salehi said he envisioned a ‘win-win’ way out of the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.)

Salehi, with his many years in the United States and Vienna, cut a stylistically more erudite, polished figure than Iran’s outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who returned home to criticism over the dramatic plunge in the value of the Iranian currency the rial by almost 40% this week. But on core positions his message was not fundamentally different from that offered by the controversy-courting Ahmadinejad, who has spoken for the past few years about Iran’s willingness to strike a reasonable compromise on its nuclear program, but alienated many in the West by his questioning of the Holocaust and antagonistic comments about Israel, which Ahmadinejad refers to as “the Zionist” entity.

By contrast, Salehi referred to “Israel” by name in his remarks. But he referred to it to criticize Israel for its recent threats of military action against Iran’s nuclear program, and the double standards by which he says it does so while possessing some 200 nuclear weapons and not being a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory.

On Syria, Salehi said that Iran has been meeting with the Syrian opposition for over a year, and supports UN and regional initiatives to try to broker mediation talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.

“We have been in contact with the Syrian opposition for over a year,” Salehi said. “We have declared and announced that we are ready to host the opposition and government in Iran, to sit down with each other and find a solution.”

(Salehi did not specify which Syrian opposition groups Iran has met with. But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, in an interview with Al-Monitor Saturday, said that Iran had been holding talks with members of the Syrian National Council and the Muslim Brotherhood.)

Salehi said that he has held meetings in New York in recent days with new United Nations/Arab League Syria envoy Lahhdar Brahimi and the Arab League chief, as well as with the UN’s longtime Lebanon envoy Terje Rød-Larsen.

Continue reading

Iran Seeks Sustained Dialogue

Barbara Slavin reports:

As Iran and world powers agreed to continue talking, Iranian officials put forward a detailed explanation of their point of view including a proposal for high-level negotiations every three months.

A 10-page document (.pdf) given Tuesday (July 3) to Iran experts by Iran’s mission to the United Nations also calls for lifting all sanctions against Iran and a framework for “comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation” that goes beyond the nuclear issue. It includes elements of a bigger bargain normalizing Iran’s status in the international community.

Among four “objectives” for the proposed dialogue, sanctions relief is listed first. The goal, the paper says, is “to normalize Iran’s nuclear file in the UN Security Council and in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors by total termination of the UNSC, unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iran.”

The priority is not surprising given the fact that draconian new sanctions went into effect July 1 that bar European countries from importing Iranian oil and insuring Iranian oil shipments to others. Iran also faces sanctions under four UN resolutions and a raft of unilateral US penalties. Its oil exports have dropped by a million barrels a day since last year and historic rival Iraq is now pumping more oil. While Iran is practiced in adapting to sanctions, its people are struggling to deal with a collapsed currency and inflation of more than 30 percent.

In addition to sanctions relief, Iran wants recognition of its right to enrich uranium in exchange for continuing to fulfill its obligations to keep its nuclear program open to international inspections.

Iran also seeks cooperation on nuclear safety and newer nuclear technology than a half-century old Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes and a hodge-podge Russian-German nuclear power plant at Bushehr that has yet to become fully operational. Continue reading